“If we are to study closely where the city’s generated waste come from, especially the nonbiodegradable, it is from the export processing zones and big business establishments.” Daisy Bagni of SAMAKANA and ORNUS.
The City of Baguio faces a mammoth problem on how to manage its garbage. The city’s garbage is reaching 130 tons per day (Ramo, Northern Dispatch, 2008) and P20 million (US$479,628.00) is needed by the City for its material recovery facilities (Baguio Midland Courier, 2008). In 2008, the City Government has been spending P20 million (US$479,628.00) per month in hauling garbage to Capaz, Tarlac (Ramo, Northerrn Dispatch, 2008), some 3-4 hour drive from the City.
Avoiding the practice of being wasteful
While in an urban setting, indigenous peoples who are mostly clustered in urban poor communities of Baguio continue to practice their indigenous knowledge systems. One of these is ayyew. Ayyew is a particular term of indigenous peoples in Mountain Province however the concept and practice is common to all indigenous groups in the Cordillera. Each group has their own term for the practice. Ayyew is an expression of value for life, food, land, goods and natural resources in the community. It is an indigenous knowledge and practice of avoiding extravagance and wasteful living, and enabling sharing of resources that the community has. It affixes care for resources and property to enable long period of usage. The value extends to the individual level by sharing what individual community members do not need anymore like clothes, utensils, tools or furniture.
The concept of ayyew in urban poor communities dominated by indigenous peoples and who face a situation of hand-to-mouth existence maybe the reasons for a lesser output of waste or garbage in these communities. According to the Samahan ng Maralitang Nagkakaisa (SAMAKANA) and Organisasyon dagiti Nakurapay nga Umili iti Siyudad (ORNUS), many of the items available in every household in urban poor communities are recycled and re-used like plastic bags, bottles, cans which are the usual throw-away and content of the City’s garbage coming mostly from better off-communities, business establishments, public places like the market and restaurants, tourist destinations like parks and sites. Most of the wastes of urban poor communities are biodegradable which are fed to pigs, commonly raised by indigenous households in urban poor communities.
Pig raising is necessary for most urban poor indigenous households to support rituals and as an additional source of income for households. The concern for sanitation however has become a hindrance for pig-raisers and the City’s health and sanitation office has become more stringent on house hold level pig-raising in the City. This became a big limitation for indigenous households in urban poor communities in earning additional income and in their right to pursue their indigenous knowledge and practices which form part of their integrity and dignity as a distinct people.
Using the concept of ayyew, urban poor households contribute in managing the waste problem of the City by converting the biodegradable waste products of their communities as fertilizers through an innovation that makes use of vermiculture. The fertilizer generated from vermiculture supports a persisting traditional practice of indigenous groups of using every space of land even stone walls, productive for vegetables, medicinal herbs and root crops.
Waste like cans and plastic materials can serve as pots to plant vegetables and herbs fertilized by vermicasts where there is not space for a garden. Pig-raising can thus be tolerated with vermiculture’s contribution in controlling the odor and the manure subsequently will also be an additional source of fertilizer. This contributes to having a supply of healthy and safe vegetables and some supply of medicinal herbs for common illnesses in small backyards and available spaces of households and in common gardens that groups of urban poor women can collectively tend.
The concept of ayyew that is enhanced or innovated by vermiculture was developed by SAMAKANA in 2009. The project concept was inspired from an earlier joint undertaking with the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center Inc. (CWEARC) where urban poor women in Irisan, Baguio City and families of mushroom growers in Shilan, La Trinidad developed backyard gardens which they planted with vegetables, root crops and corn as an additional food source for their families especially during the height of the food crisis in 2008.
The produce from backyard gardens is primarily for family consumption. However, it is sometimes sold in times of dire need for cash by the women. The project encouraged maximization of every available space for vegetable gardening like small plots, flower ports, stone walls and mobilized the community—women, children, men and the elderly, for the maintenance of the gardens. This good experience is applying a traditional agricultural practice among indigenous peoples in the rural areas, in the urban setting. Stocks are shared among indigenous women in urban poor communities and every space is maximized by women to augment food sources in every possible way. Household garbage are recycled as fertilizer for backyard gardens.
With such as an initiative, at least there are 4 urban poor communities which are practicing vegetable gardening that is fertilized by vermicasts. These are UP Village in Irisan, Pinget, San Luis and San Carlos.
In West Quirino Hill, they are claiming that since they started the vermiculture, they are collecting their neighbours’ biodegradable wastes including papers, cartoons, and tissues to be fed to the vermi worms. This has resulted to significant decrease in the community’s generated wastes collected by the city. SAMAKANA claims that as of the moment, 1/3 of Quirino Hill households are already practicing this technology.
Vermiculture as a way to get rid of organic waste and to defend livelihood
In barangay Gibraltar, a member organization of Innabuyog are practicing vermiculture in order to manage both solid and liquid waste coming from their piggeries. It has become their way of defending their livelihood from the threat of closure because of arising complaints from their neighbours due to the foul smell coming from their piggeries.
The hog growers were threatened to close their operation when their neighbours filed a case against them before the City. In order to address this, SAMAKANA collaborated with the barangay officials and the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO) in introducing the project to help them mitigate the foul smell which was the reason behind the complaints. Trainings were held relative to this case. At present, the case has yet to be decided but the foul smell had been mitigated.
On the other hand, a carrot juice maker is relieved from receiving a lot of complaints of foul smell since she started tending vermiculture.
In West Quirino Hill, vermiculture is an income generating activity for women aside from lessening biodegradable waste. Also, it is an empowering activity for them because even without the intervention of SAMAKANA, women in the said community integrated vermiculture in their backyard gardening. Vermicasts are used as fertilizer for their backyard gardens. Today, most if not all families are helping each other to maintain the vermi-beds and the backyard gardens.
The vermi-cast in the said community is being sold specially when there are trade fairs. The vegetables that they harvested from their backyard gardens help every family by cutting their expenses for food. As migrants coming from the provinces in the region, these women always seek the work they got so used in their former rural communities.
Facing the problem of limited lots to plant in their own yards coupled by demolition threats, the women in West Quirino Hill resort to planting in plant pots or in recycled plastic containers.
In other communities, they are not only planting vegetables but also medicinal plants for colds, fever, cough and other common illnesses.
On the other hand, the beneficiaries asked to be informed on appropriate technology that makes decomposition faster. In line with this, SAMAKANA and CWEARC assisted some of the women leaders in the communities for a cross learning visit to livelihood and waste management projects of the Villar Foundation in
Las Piñas City.
Feasibility of a collective garden
To further strengthen the practice of cooperation through ubbo/innabuyog, SAMAKANA entered into a partnership with Sta. Scholastica Convent through Sr. Alice Sovrevinas. The small garden is part of the Seven Healing Gardens of the Convent. This initiative was also supported by CWEARC in 2009. Three women were assigned to ensure training, project implementation and coordination. At least all of the participants to the collective garden practice backyard gardening in their own homes, 34 of them have enhanced their gardening with vermiculture and 24 are dedicated practitioners.
It was part of the project that every member has specific schedule in tending the collective garden. However, during the actual implementation of the project, the schedule of tending the collective garden was not followed. Based on the assessment of SAMAKANA, this was attributed to the members being pulled out for economic activities specifically for sidewalk vendors. It was then observed that there is a difficulty in sustaining their attendance in the garden work. Maintenance was eventually assumed by organizers of SAMAKANA. Moreover, the expectation on the garden was adjusted. It was resolved that the maintenance will be turned over to the Convent and the garden will continue to serve as a demonstration farm and cross-learning venue for urban poor women on vermiculture. The transfer of Sr. Alice to the National Capital Regional however affected the sustained operation of the garden.
Challenges and lessons learned
The practice of ayyew in growing vegetables in the traditional way in the urban setting and enhanced by vermiculture is truly a good innovation by SAMAKANA. This enhancement or innovation was made possible with technical support from institutions like CWEARC and the Sta. Catalina Convent. At the household level, this is proven effective. Each practitioner makes use of all available space in their home yards including stone walls which they planted with sweet potato or camote. The limited space they have at their backyards is expanded by making use of cans and plastics as receptacles to plant vegetables such as pechay, beans and other vegetables that are grown easily. In this sense, urban poor practitioners are able to recycle and re-use cans and plastics as planting receptacles. Organic wastes generated from their kitchen are converted as fertilizers with the aid of vermiculture. Generally, they are proud to share that the small harvest they get from their household gardens lessen their budget for vegetables. Additionally, they are sure of the safety of these vegetables as they have grown these themselves. Some of them proudly share that they even share some of their vegetables with their neighbours.
One continuing challenge that SAMAKANA face with its members is the change in mindset in accepting vermiculture as an effective technology. SAMAKANA admits that some of its members find the worms gross, some of the women hardly remove their doubt of these worms being pests. Hence, it is important that cross-learning among practitioners with those who are not yet convinced on the technology, need to be a sustained effort. Cristy Ngolab and Daisy Bagni, who are among the leaders of SAMAKANA and active vermiculture practitioners say that the exchange of ideas and learnings among urban poor women enable them to explain the basic science in this experience.
“Maysa gayam a karirigatan iti kastoy a trabaho ket ti panangingato iti kaamuan dagiti nakurapay nga umili a saan nga amin nga egges ket peste,” (One of the hardest thing to do in this
endeavor is to raise the awareness of the urban poor communities that not all worms are pests) Bagni shared. It is easier she added to tell the people to strengthen their indigenous knowledge and practice in waste management because they are already doing it while vermiculture is something very new to them. Thus, she further pointed out that they had to raise the peoples’ appreciation towards the importance of the said worms.
Other members of SAMAKANA are actually raising vermiworms or the African night crawlers as a source of income. According to SAMAKANA, this is good on one side however they also clarify that their concept of innovating traditional gardening with vermiculture is not primarily production for the market but production to strengthen the indigenous knowledge of ayyew and cooperation therefore contributing to waste reduction and management, and enhancing home-based produced vegetables. It was also originally conceptualized that the vermiworms are shared to your neighbours so that the idea of it as a system for waste management and enhancing home-based produced vegetables will be spread at community levels.
The tendency of members who already went into marketing their vermicasts or fertilizers and African crawlers think more of the income than sustaining the practice of homebased vegetables and sharing. Sharing of worms has become less easy to do when practitionerscum-producers are thinking primarily of the income they will generate. With this as a challenge, SAMAKANA will have to study further how its members should balance income generation vis sharing their worms more widely so that the practice becomes a community endeavour.
The idea of keeping a collective garden which they demonstrated in the space at Sta. Catalina Convent, is definitely good. Based on SAMAKANA’s assessment, there are important considerations to note in running collective gardens in an urban setting. One is the distance from the communities of the members of the association. Urban poor women members have to travel one or two rides to get to the Convent. Collective gardens are best if they are near their own communities. The limitation is when there is no common space in their respective communities that urban poor women may request management from local government officials or private owners.
In this case, the urban poor women’s organization will also pursue in getting local government support for their initiative. Second is the right timing of schedules in consideration of the daily economic activities of the members. Schedules of tending or maintenance which is assigned by group or cluster can also be optimized for organizational meetings and trainings. Like how it turned out in the experience, SAMAKANA will have to determine key persons to be monitoring the collective garden in between schedules of tending and maintaining. If collective gardens are not possible in their communities due to space constraint, then garden management is best done at household levels with more opportunities of experience sharing or cross-learning.